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November 2007

Miles Davis
Evolution of the Groove
Columbia/Legacy

What a jumble. Nearly a decade and a half of groove morphology compressed into an EP, and overlaid with new components to show, at once, how rhythmically pioneering Davis was—as if this needed reiteration—in a Sly Stone/James Brown sense, and how much influence he still exerts in rap and R&B. An old soul informing our new soul music. But wouldn’t you know: This brief set mostly works, if you can orient yourself to what’s essentially a tour-de-force of amalgamation, a testament to the recording studio and what can be done with old session tapes as much as that original music itself.

There are some marvelous outtake snippets from “Freddy Freeloader” to begin, complete with some Macero-Davis patter that’s riff-like, and funny, before “Freedom Jazz Dance” kicks off, with rapper Nas banging on about the most salient aspects of African-American aesthetic culture above Tony Williams’ familiar polyphonies, and sorely mispronouncing “Machiavellian” in making his agitprop arguments/rhymes. Whatever it takes.

Such jocularity doesn’t crop up elsewhere, but Carlos Santana comps along with a treatment of “It’s About That Time” in the wry manner of a man who knows this music so deeply that an interpretation which incorporates the actual sonic material of the original source is bound to come off as homage rather than bold, new exploration. So we fizzle a bit there. As for Davis being a groove impresario, I’m not sure a 15-minute EP helps if you’ve yet to make the connection.

Originally published in November 2007
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